Santa Maria degli Angeli (Church of St. Mary of the Angels) in Assisi is much venerated as the place of St. Francis' death. Inside the grand Baroque basilica are two small, humble structures: the Capella del Transito and the Porziuncola.
History of Santa Maria degli Angeli
The Porziuncola is a chapel obtained from the Benedictines and restored by St. Francis himself. In it he founded the order of Friars Minor that would later be known as the Franciscans. It was also here that St. Clare embarked on her monastic life on March 28, 1211.
And, in 1216, Francis had a vision in the little chapel in which he was granted the "Pardon of Assisi." As he prayed, a light filled the chapel and he saw above the altar Christ, the Virgin Mary and a company of angels. They asked him what he wanted for the salvation of souls, and Francis replied:
The request was granted based on Francis' worthiness, and the indulgence was officially approved by Pope Honorius III.
Nearby, in the humble cell now known as the Cappella del Transito, St. Francis died October 3, 1226.
The number of pilgrims to the Porziuncola and Transito were so numerous - estimated at 100,000 in 1582 - that it became necessary to have new structures to welcome them. Therefore, a great Baroque church was built around the humble chapels by Pope Pio V beginning in 1569, after the designs of the architect Galeazzo Alessi. It was completed in 1679.
A number of renovations and restorations were undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially after an earthquake in 1832. In 1930, the statue of the "Madonna degli Angeli" (Madonna of the Angels) was added by the sculptor Colasanti to the top of the façade.
What to See at Santa Maria degli Angeli
Santa Maria degli Angeli is one of the largest sanctuaries of the Christian world, measuring 126 meters long, 65 meters wide and 75 meters high at the level of the 1680 cupola. It consists of a wide central nave with side aisles and ten side chapels, leading into a transept and long choir, and culminating in an apse at the east end.
The main basilica has frescoes by Appiani dating from 1757 and in the chapels are paintings from the 17th century by Pomarancio, Giorgetti, Sermei Salimbeni and the Zuccari brothers.
Standing directly under the basilica's large dome, the Porziuncola ("little portion") is the original stone chapel restored and frequently used by St. Francis. Dating from the 9th century, the long-abandoned chapel was given to Francis by the Benedictines and became the early headquarters of the new Franciscan order, founded here in 1209.
The chapel is decorated with frescoes with a variety of dates. Over the entrance is a fresco by German artist Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1829) depicting the "Pardon of Assisi," an indulgence obtained by St. Francis through a vision here in 1216.
Inside, the eye is immediately drawn to the colorful fresco on the back wall, known as the Altar Screen of Prete Ilario da Viterbo (1393). It tells the story of the Pardon of Assisi in five scenes: 1) Francis throws himself into thorns to overcome temptation; 2) Francis is accompanied by two angels while going to the Porziuncola; 3) inside the Porziuncola, he contemplates the apparition of Jesus and the Virgin and asks for the plenary indulgence; 4) he receives confirmation of it from Pope Honorius III; and 5) he declares to all the great gift received from Christ.
The Cappella del Transito is the small room in which St. Francis died on October 3, 1226. It is a simple hut that served as an infirmary for the sick in the community. He asked to be brought here when he felt himself near death.
The outside of the Transito is decorated with a fresco of The Death and Funeral of St. Francis by Domenico Bruschi (1886). The interior walls have frescoes by Giovanni di Pietro (called "Spagna"; 1450-1538), one of the followers of Perugino. They depict beatified or canonized Franciscans. Above the small altar in a glass case is the rope belt of St. Francis.
Also inside is a white statue of a sad-looking St. Francis made of enamelled terracotta, sculpted by Andrea della Robbia around 1490.
Outside the basilica is the Rose Garden, all that remains of the forest where Francis and the other friars lived. As depicted in the Porziuncola fresco, tradition has it that Francis rolled naked in thorns here to combat doubt and temptation. Another early tradition says that on contact with the saint's body, the thornbushes turned into roses without thorns. This is the origin of the Rosa Canina Assisiensis, which flowers only at the Porziuncola.
The Chapel of the Roses was built by St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio around 1260 and extended to its present size by St. Bernardine of Siena around 1440. It is known also as "St. Francis' Cell," as it occupies the original site of his hut.
The Courtyard of the Roses was constructed in 1882. It contains a bronze monument by Vincenzo Rossignoli (1916), which depicts Francis accepting the gift of a lamb because of its innocence and simplicity.
Housed in a 15th-century friary that predates the basilica, the Porziuncola Museum was founded by the friars in 1924. It displays a fine range of art, including paintings from the 13th century and reliquaries from the 14th century.
Quick Facts on Santa Maria degli Angeli
|Names:||Basilica Papale di Santa Maria degli Angeli · Santa Maria degli Angeli|
|Categories:||churches; shrines; World Heritage Sites|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (of the Angels)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.058039° N, 12.580279° E|
|Address:||Piazza della Porziuncola|
|Hours:||Daily 10am-12:30pm and 2-6pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Santa Maria degli Angeli|
- Personally visited (April 23, 2008).
- Shrine of the Porziuncola - official website
- Fodor's Florence, Tuscany & Umbria, 7th edition
- Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli - Bella Umbria
- The Porziuncola - Bella Umbria
Map of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi
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